Colorado democrat congressman Ed Perlmutter today introduced a bill that would allow banks to carry the accounts of medical marijuana and state-legal recreational marijuana businesses.
Because marijuana is illegal in all forms at the federal level, banks insured by the federal government have been reluctant to do business with marijuana dispensaries, even though the pot shops are legal at the state level. That has left hundreds of legal marijuana-related businesses across the country operating on a cash-only basis or hiding the true nature of their business from bankers.
“As a small business owner, I can’t imagine trying to operate a legitimate business without access to the banking system,” said Washington Rep. Denny Heck, the bill’s co-sponsor and founder of two education/training program companies. “Forcing legitimate businesses to operate on a cash-only basis without bank accounts is an invitation for robbery, tax evasion and organized crime. With twenty-one states and D.C. now allowing for some form of legal adult marijuana usage, federal law needs to be updated to reflect the reality of the situation in the states.”
The bill has been a major problem in Colorado, with state efforts to remedy the situation over the past few years falling flat. Basically: without the feds approval, there’s nothing states can do. That’s posing not only financial problems, but also safety concerns – dispensaries operating with huge sums of cash and employees walking out with paychecks paid in greenbacks could become targets for robbery.
|Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo.
Perlmutter’s bill is rather simple: it allows banks, credit unions and other “depository institutions” to hold accounts with pot businesses. The banks/credit unions/credit card companies would be immune from prosecution simply because their client is a legal pot shop.
That means medical dispensaries and any future recreational shops would have access to everything from checking accounts to credit card machines – you know, the things all normal businesses have.
“We need to address the public safety, crime and lost tax revenue associated when these legal and regulated businesses are operating in a cash-only system,” Perlmutter said in a release. “We also need to provide financial institutions assurance that they can make their own business decisions related to legal, financial transactions without fear of regulatory penalties or criminal prosecution.”
Cannabis business owners praise the bill, which they say would give them much-needed relief.
“Each year, my companies contribute to the five million dollars in tax revenue Colorado collects from the sales of medical marijuana,” said Jaime Lewis, Denver dispensary owner and board member of the National Cannabis Industry Association. “Just like any other small business, we submit payroll taxes and unemployment insurance for our staffers. Making those tax payment is unnecessarily challenging because we do not have access to banking services other local businesses take for granted. Regulators, business owners, and medical marijuana patients alike all deserve the accountability, safety, and efficiency offered by this legislation.”
The bill already has large bipartisan support, including one representative from Virginia, a state that does not currently allow for recreational or medical cannabis.